Berky, John: A short history of the first Takashi Asahina Bruckner cycle

Berky, John: A short history of the first Takashi Asahina Bruckner cycle
Today, the name Takashi Asahina is closely associated with the music of Anton Bruckner. Over the course of his lengthy career, Asahina recorded three complete Bruckner cycles (for Jean-Jean, Canyon and JVC) and by the end of his career, just about every Bruckner performance that he presented was recorded and commercially released. This gave us some other collected box sets of recordings released by Canyon and Fontec.

But, back in the 1970's Asahina was not well known as a Bruckner conductor. In 1969, the Theater Jean-Jean was established in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. It was closed in 2000. The owner was Susumu Takashima, an avant-gardist and supporter of the arts.

One day in the 1970’s, Takashima had a chance to go to a concert of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 played by Asahina and the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo. After the concert he tried in vain to find an Asahina Bruckner recording. At that time, only the recording department of the publishing company, Gakken had published any Asahana performances - that was a Beethoven Symphony Cycle. The only Asahina Bruckner recording then available was one by the Nagoya University Symphony Orchestra. It was a performance of the Bruckner Symphony No. 8 recorded on January 20, 1976 and released on LP for the orchestra members. The major labels were not at all interested in recording Bruckner conducted by Asahina.

Then, Takashima decided to record the Bruckner cycle with Asahina by himself. The three late symphonies were recorded in April 1976 in Kobe, however Takashima was not satisfied with the recording of the Symphony No. 8 and recorded it again on August 23, 1976.

The first publication by Disques Jean-Jean was in June 1977 and was of the Bruckner Symphony No. 8. It was released as a 2 LP set (JJ101-102AB). In November of 1977, a six LP set followed which included the Symphonies 7 and 9 along with the Symphony No. 8. The rehearsal of the third movement of Symphony No. 9 was added as a bonus on the back side of LP No. 6. Then, in 1978 the Symphonies Nos. 1 through 6 were recorded and were published. This set was only offered to those who purchased the six LP set. The final LP box (JJ1600-JJ1616) release in July 1978 included all nine symphonies with a bonus LP (JJS002) of the Symphony No. 7 as recorded in St. Florian on October 12, 1975.

Since the label was so minor, there ware practically no critics on this cycle and no major magazines nor newspapers introduced it. Only one critic, Koho Uno appreciated Asahina and his cycle in “Bruckner”, the bulletin of the Bruckner Association of Japan - established in 1978 and ending its activities in 1997. Only 1,000 copies of the LP set were released and the cycle became one of the rarest items for collectors, who started to deify the conductor and the cycle.

In February 1996, Disques Jean-Jean released the cycle on 12CDs (JJ-008/019). That quickly became a collector's item as well.

In July 2000, three months after the closure of Theater Jean-Jean, Green Door Music Publishing Company, of which the President is Kinji Yoshino, (who was the recording director of the cycle) re-released the cycle on 17 CDs (JJGD-2001/17) from the original tapes through digital remastering. Three CDs in this set contain the rehearsals of symphonies Nos. 2, 4, 8 and 9.

My sincere thanks to Mitsuru Suda for providing this information.